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Month: July 2006

Fantasia 2006: The Great Yokai War

And finally…

The Great Yokai War. Just, whoa.

Miike isn’t one of my top five artists in the world (David Cronenberg, Richard Thompson, Wong Kar Wai, George R. R. Martin, probably Aimee Mann; list subject to change), but he’s the guy I’d like to play Being John Malkovich with. I want to see what he’s thinking while he works. I want to figure out what he’s trying to do, and I want to figure out how he keeps up his insane multi-movie-per-year pace while still churning out heart-stoppingly beautiful, perfect moments of film.

The Great Yokai War is almost painfully emotionally involving. Miike digs his hooks in early and holds you: he makes you care about what happens. There’s some sort of visceral reality in the way he shoots a movie that gets you; he has a way of immersing audiences which is just as effective here as it is in Audition. It’s just the specific emotional responses that are different.

Then I contemplate the climax of the movie, in which the world is saved by a freak coincidence and a legume. Plus pop music. Is Miike engaging in a cynical angry satire on children’s movies? I am honestly not sure. One Missed Call was in part a deeply barbed stab at Japanese cultural media, so maybe this was the same. There’s a scene where Tadashi Ino, the kid protagonist, dresses up for the big fight with a deeply snarky line pointed directly at Dragonball Z and its ilk, so there are hints of satire. But man, Miike clearly adores the Japanese cultural goblin tales he’s working with…

I got no idea. Hard to figure out. Either way it was a superbly beautiful, scary, thrilling, involving movie about saving the world. I’m a little sad about missing the rest of the movies Saturday night and Sunday, but exhaustion had set in, and this was about as good a capper as I could have asked for.

Grade: A+.

Fantasia 2006: Aziris Nuna

Saturday was our children’s movie day. Aziris Nuna was the first of the pair, and it was pretty much a generic children’s movie. It’s somewhat looser than you’d expect from a US flick of the same style, and a little more leering, but all in all it didn’t go anywhere weird or wild.

The opening shots were incredible: pyramids rising behind Moscow, and a ship of some sort kinda drifting over the city. This had me considerably excited, since the Fantasia blurb said “Aziris Nuna is set in an alternate reality that sees the architecture of Moscow blended with Egyptian temples and pyramids.” Alas, this was not the case — it’s set in our reality, with a bunch of time travel, and the opening shots are just cool effects.

The look of the film held up. It’s sort of Fifth Element, sort of Zathura. The effects and set design were pretty amazing, considering the whole thing cost less than four million to make. (This according to one of the producers, hanging out at the back of the theater as we filed out.) The acting was as good as you’d expect, and the thing was competently made. But, eh, it’s still just a children’s movie and it didn’t hold my interest.

Grade: B-.

Fantasia 2006: Five Deadly Venoms

The first time I saw Five Deadly Venoms, I was not as kind as I might have been. I enjoyed it a lot more this time — perhaps because I was in the mood, perhaps because it was on the big screen, or perhaps because I saw it in good company.

It’s still a sort of mystery with a lot of varied kung fu style, but I was ready for the pacing. I dug the range of fights quite a bit on second viewing; there’s great distinction between the five venoms. I was also forewarned that Lizard was played by Philip Kwok, who I have a fondness for from Hard-Boiled, so it was cool watching him mug around.

Grade: B+.

Fantasia 2006: The Order of One

Fantasia lists this as The Order of One, but IMDB has it as Order of One. Who knows? The official website uses the article, so there you go.

It’s a total DIY low budget indie flick, shot for under $100,000 in and around Montreal. The big bad evil martial arts master is played by a real sensei from a local dojo, and I’d bet on a bunch of his thugs being students from the dojo. This makes, anyhow, for some pretty fun martial arts scenes — I can’t complain about that.

Well, and I can’t complain about much of anything. I mean, it’s an enthusiastic low budget tribute to Sonny Chiba and 70s action flicks, right down to the split screen. Yeah, the picture quality sucks and some kind of transfer sync issue was doing something weird with the frames per second, but whatever! It’s a guy just out of prison getting his hands on a mystical sword and fighting off waves of assassins while trying to decide if he should deliver it to the good guys or keep it himself. What more do you want?

… no, you don’t get good acting, but they’re all having fun.

Grade: B- if you don’t mind the complete indie nature, C+ if the bad lighting bugs you. For me? B-.

Fantasia 2006: Evil Aliens

(Back! Back in the saddle again!)

Evil Aliens is the goriest film I saw all week. You know what you’re getting when a rotating spiky probe hits someone’s delicate rear end within the first five minutes of the movie. Sploosh!

It’s also a total riot. Everyone’s comparing it to Evil Dead, which is exactly accurate. You get all the gore in the world, a wickedly nasty sense of humor, plenty of self-aware parody, and evil alien monsters. I laughed all the way through when I wasn’t cringing in shock. There weren’t any really scary bits; the aliens are gonna do damage and people are gonna die and none of that comes as any kind of a surprise. There are a couple of jump scares, but the point is definitely blood, a bit of sex, and funny stuff. Also, the scene with the harvester is the best use of music in a horror movie ever, no really.

The whole plot is parody, really. Real aliens show up on a nearly empty Welsh island, and a tabloid journalism show heads off to film there after some cryptic reports. Inbred Welsh farmers kick the crap out of aliens; the crap kicking is returned. There are ley lines. It’s damned snarky.

We saw three British horror flicks over the week (two from England, one from Ireland), and they couldn’t have been more different: the gorefest Evil Aliens, the monster movie Isolation, and the survival horror flick Wilderness. All were excellent. British horror is completely rocking the house right now and I give them huge happy thumbs up and I want more, please.

Grade: A.

Tud

A combination of slight illness and scheduling mishaps is about to lead to a slightly early departure. Alas! The remainder of the reviews (everything up through The Great Yokai War) will come when we get back to Boston. It’s been an excellent week.

Fantasia 2006: Ressonances

I have absolutely no idea what Ressonances was doing on the program. I mean, there’ve been some movies I didn’t enjoy, but I get why they were there — interesting ideas, or love of the genre, or whatever. But this just bit.

The program says that Philippe Robert, the director, worked on a number of French flicks. When I finally found him on IMDB, it turns out he was a camera operator (and Ressonances isn’t listed at all). I’m surprised that his first feature film was so damned muddy and impenetrable; it looks like it was filmed at night with very little lighting. You’d think a camera operator would know better.

Peering through the murk, I tried to take the movie as a parody/homage to the classic monster in the woods movie. But it wasn’t really funny. I think the biggest laugh came when one of the characters referred to Zidane’s jersey as his lucky number, and that’s only funny because of the headbutt, which happened after the movie was made.

Grade: D.

Fantasia 2006: DJ XL5 Zappin' Party Cavalcade

So this is easy: it was a big collection of short films, everything from trailer remixes to Flash animation bits to traditional animation. It was fairly good. I guess you could reasonably stick your name on this kind of thing if your cutting and editing of shorts was really innovative, but in this case a bit of static between shorts doesn’t count. It was still fun to watch. I’d probably go for taking a break instead of watching one of these again next year, just cause it’s all viewable elsewhere fairly easily.

Grade: I dunno, how do you grade a compendium? I liked it.

Fantasia 2006: Reincarnation

There’s a difference between horror and terror. Terror is being scared; it’s the long creepy shot of the end of the corridor in the split second when the monster appears. It’s the adrenaline rush. Fear. Terrified. Horror, on the other hand, is the knowledge that something incredibly awful is going on. It’s the grim certainty that a monster will appear: gut-churning time. Horrified.

Reincarnation is interesting, cause you expect J-horror to be a lot of each. In good J-horror, there’s lots of built up tension plus the oft-gory rush to judgment. Reincarnation really isn’t very terrifying; it didn’t leave me looking over my shoulder on the way home. But man, the slow patient playing out of fate is amazingly horrifying.

This is perhaps because it’s so non-surreal. The blurb in the program really wanted this to be the same sort of blurred Takashi Shimizu horror that he’s known for with the Ju-on films. It’s not; the horror comes from the clarity with which the inevitable plays out. You need to see the future clearly in order to understand how doomed the cast is.

Bonus points for clever use of film within a film, not just once (the movie being made about a senseless set of murders in a hotel), but twice (the 8 mm film shot by the hotel murderer himself). That provides the opportunity for a triple overlay of events, which is damned effective. So is the rest of the movie.

Grade: A.

Fantasia 2006: The Descendant

From one low budget horror film with a message to another. The Descendant is very earnest, and better filmed than Subject Two — less polished, but better pacing, and better acting on the whole. The protagonist, Jamie, is somewhat stiff, but his grandparents and the reclusive denizens of Ste. Harmonie make up for him performance-wise.

It’s hard to describe the movie without giving away too much. Jamie’s mother dies, and he goes to find out why she didn’t talk to her grandparents in twenty-odd years. The town they live in has a secret, and that’s the movie right there.

The earnest part comes in when you hit the plot twist. This is, I think, the movie M. Night Shyamalan should have made instead of The Village. It’s his sort of gut-punch impact, or it would be if it had been made with a bit more skill.

The message is powerful, but the desire to get the point across seems to have led Philippe Spurrell, the director, into skimping on plausibility. His desire to make the crimes of the village as immediate as possible instead make them so implausible as to weaken the whole movie. A step back from the material would have benefitted the whole thing immensely.

Grade: C+ for the movie, B- for the intent.